Ottoline Morrell

From Academic Kids

Lady Ottoline Morrell (June 16, 1873 - April 21, 1938) was an English socialite, friend and patron of many artistic people, including Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon and D. H. Lawrence. Born Ottoline Violet Anne Cavendish Bentinck, she acquired the title of "Lady" when her half-brother inherited the Duchy of Portland in 1879, and the family moved into Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Ottoline was a cousin of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later to become queen, and a direct descendant of Bess of Hardwick.

Throughout her life, Ottoline was an incurable romantic. Her first love affair was with an older man, the doctor and writer Axel Munthe, but she rejected his impulsive proposal of marriage because her spiritual beliefs were incompatible with his atheism - only to find that he had already lost interest in her.

She married the would-be Liberal politician, Philip Morrell, in 1902, with whom she shared many views and interests. The marriage lasted for the rest of her life, although both partners had several affairs. Ottoline herself dallied with Bertrand Russell among others. They had one child, a daughter, Julian. Nevertheless, their home at Garsington Manor near Oxford became a haven for like-minded people. During World War I, they were notable pacifists, inviting conscientious objectors to take refuge on their home farm at Garsington. Amongst these conscientious objectors were Duncan Grant and David Garnett (which was one of the reasons why they moved to the nearby Charleston with Vanessa Bell in the early years of the war). It was at Garsington Manor, also, that Siegfried Sassoon, recuperating after a period of sick leave, was encouraged to go absent without leave in a protest against the war. The hospitality offered by the Morrells was such that most of their guests had no suspicion that they were in financial difficulties.

Later, Lady Ottoline remained a regular host to the adherents of the Bloomsbury Group, and many other artists and scholars. She could certainly be considered as a patron to many of them, while not void of artistic aspirations (of an extravagant camp-like kind) herself too.

Perhaps Lady Ottoline's most interesting legacy are the representations of her that appear in 20th century literature. She was the inspiration for Mrs Bidlake in Huxley's Point Counter Point, for Hermione Roddice in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, for Lady Caroline Bury in Graham Greene's It's a Battlefield, and for Lady Sybilline Quarrell in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On. The Coming Back (1933), another novel which portrays her, was written by Constance Malleson, one of Ottoline's many rivals for the affection of Bertrand Russell.

Also non-literary portraits are part of this interesting legacy, e.g. the artistic photographs of her by Cecil Beaton and others.

Biography: Ottoline Morrell: Life on a Grand Scale by Miranda Seymour (Hodder & Stoughton, revised edition 1998).

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